How much research do you need?

IMAG0187In the last blog post I mentioned my need for some research into swordplay, sword fights and swords in general. I thought about approaching the local SCA to ask if someone would show me how to swing one, but when I asked them last year about taking off their armour they got a bit funny with me, so I am resorting to the written word at the moment (while I work on my wording).

I also have a large battle coming up (it is a war after all) and so some siege planning and the like is also required.

These are important aspects of the series but firstly I need to focus on the story.

At what point do we need to research and how much do we need to do?

It is going to depend on what you are writing as to how much research is required. Yet there will always be some needed because there is always a reader that will pick up a mistake.

We have all read something where we thought the author must have researched so much that he wanted to pack everything he learned into the novel. Said novel then reads like creative non-fiction and sometimes not even that creative. I don’t want that. I don’t enjoy reading it and I’m sure I wouldn’t enjoy writing it.

The key is not to get lost in the research.

So don’t read everything on a topic. My suggestion is to start writing and then make a list of what areas you need to research as you go.

My research on sword play started with my character needing to learn how to use a sword. I do not need blow by blow included in the story but it needs to be realistic.

For the big battle scenes for the moment I am writing what is happening while they are under attack, not just the bombs falling (so to speak, my medieval fantasy doesn’t have bombs, yet). The details can come later.

I did a little research before I started writing on the general language and life in the period I have set my novel. Some things at the moment really do not fit with the period, but as it is fantasy if I can explain it well it may work.

When I come across areas now that I am writing that needs research I make a note and keep writing. Or when I need a break from writing I do some reading then, particularly if I can’t continue writing without a little research. Or I collect references as I come across a problem area, such as the swordplay where I have purchased some books on swordplay itself, different types of swords and fighting and how to write fight scenes.

The majority of my research will be done during the various editing phases.

Does the idea of research scare you as you write or do you easily get lost in your reference material and forget your story?

Finding Character Motivation

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When I start writing I often have little idea about the motivation for most of my characters. As I write this tends to reveal itself as I learn more about the characters. Sometimes it is not so easy and their motivation continues to elude me. I have this problem with a couple of my key characters at the moment.

My biggest problem is a duty focused soldier. He has been slowly falling for one of my main characters (and she him) but so far he has maintained the appropriate distance, if only just, for her sake rather than his own. Although at times he has endangered her and others inadvertently by being distracted by her rather than focusing on his job. But he is still a good soldier and he knows his place. My plan is that as this relationship changes he crosses a boundary that sets off a chain of events that are quite important to the plot.

The problem: would he cross that line? Really cross it in a can’t-go-back kind of way. Would his love for her blind him so much that he would forget his duty and his morals and who he is? He has managed to restrain himself for this long so what would tip his balance?

I have written the scene that pulls them together. First draft or course and I’m not happy with it yet but I looked back over it and thought – he wouldn’t really do that. Is love enough?

Funnily enough I understand her motivation quite well. What she needs and wants and why she is drawn to him and why she would risk it all to be with him. When I had imagined him in the outlining process he was a bit more fickle and carefree and was prepared to take those risks too. But once he hit the page he was something different, stronger, sterner and more sure of his duty and his place in the world. I just have to find the chink that would push him over his own boundaries…in a way it has to be because of who he is and what he believes that pushes him over that line but I haven’t quite worked out how to do that yet.

The last week did not quite go to plan but to ensure I continue to write I have been concentrating on that first and then other bits later (which means they have been put right off the list for the moment). I wrote 1500+ words a day (for six days and then on Sunday my chain broke). I have been rereading and rethinking bits of the story, such as the motivations above, but also a new antagonist idea has started to grow and I am excited to see how I can use that.

I seem to be metaphorically swinging a lot of swords around at the moment but have no real idea on how to make a mark on my opponent so some research still required. Getting the story down is the most important aspect at the moment and the research can filter in as I write and more so during the editing phase.

My characters seem to develop into something different to what I first imagined them to be and I enjoy that but when it gets in the way of the plot points what do you do?

I have had a little break

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You should understand before we go any further that when I say “break” I really mean “breakdown” or “block” or something similar. Perhaps breakdown is too harsh, I was not a quivering mess in the corner unable to do anything but cry. I was functioning just fine, I just wasn’t writing. And that for me is far more important than whether or not I was able to get in the car and drive to work.

This block possibly came about because:

  • Day job stressors (far too complicated to go into here but let us say that at this point I still have a day job to support my writing until it is the paying job – you get the point)
  • Changes with daylight savings threw me more than I thought possible, how can one hour make so much trouble?
  • A 24 hour bug but it seems to have taken a lot longer than a day to get over
  • Reduced energy which I am blaming on all of the above
  • Fear that my story is not enough to fill three books (probably the most significant, but let us not discount the other items in the list).

And in the midst of all this I realised that I had stopped writing and this stressed me further to the point it became harder and harder each day to even look at the computer and when I did it was to check Facebook and Twitter, not write.

I spent some time developing maps and plans of castles and towns. I then drafted a blog post about the map development I was doing for my novel series but I lacked confidence to even polish that and post it. Again, creating more stress.

So after nearly two weeks of not writing and stressing about not writing I have taken some steps to remind myself of why I write in the first place and what I want to do with my writing.

  • I am focusing on the fun side: the magic of the story unfolding across a screen (or page); that wonder of discovery as the characters come to life and tell me what they want.
  • I am also working through a writing a series course with Holly Lisle, which is interesting and giving me lots of tips to make my current work stronger.

 

Slowly able to take deep breaths again (hence this post) I am hoping I haven’t overloaded myself with to do’s for this week. But after thinking about what I want and knowing what I can achieve I have set out the following:

  • To write 1500 words of my new work every day (weekend included) and when I find the flow that equates to about an hour of writing.
  • To finalise the short story I have been working on – just a few tweaks and it is ready to go; two to three hours at most I’m sure and important because I want to get a good story out to you lovely readers soon. The longer I put it off the longer until you get it.
  • Return to regular blogging….

I know that this is achievable even with my current workload at the day job.

The key is to write and to write every day and I am attempting to create a writing chain. I haven’t made my goal public yet but not far away…

At the moment I am focusing on everything I can to get writing again and continuing to write.

I have even considered signing up for Nanowrimo this year. A scary thought but I would only need to write 1667 words a day to complete the 50,000. Depending on the flow I can write anywhere from 1200 to 2000 words an hour but I don’t want to overload myself and cause another block (I’ve done that before).

IMAG0243So here is a picture of part of my map – just because I was going to share it, my creating maps started as a distraction or procrastination tool as I struggled with the story a little but that grew into something far worse. So no more maps until I have my 1500 words written for the day. And we can count today as day 1 of the chain!

Ensuring the flow of ink continues across the page…

The Flow of Ink
The Flow of Ink

I have stressed a little over the last couple of weeks about my drafting processes and the progress of my current work. The stress threatened to halt the writing process altogether but I was determined not to let it.

The key is to focus on the fact that this is drafting and it doesn’t have to be perfect at this point. I just need to get the story down and sort out the problems in the next draft or revision process. The majority of what I have so far is following my outline and I have even drafted (most of) it in chronological order.

But now I am seeing the gaps and losing characters and…stressing.

To prevent the onset of writer’s block and keep the work flowing this is what I am trying:

Write. It doesn’t matter how, or whether the scenes are in order or even if the scene is in my outline. Just getting the story down however it comes to me. Previously I have written out of sequence and so I am allowing myself to write anywhere over the three books when I need to. When I get stuck, I read through the last scene I wrote and then go from there.

Any idea could be a good idea. I am exploring new ideas as they form. Given that this is a first draft they may not survive the next one but a new idea could spark a better, stronger story.

No stressing about where characters are or what they are doing when I’m not writing them directly. They are important and I should spend some time thinking about them, and I do, but not worry during the writing process as to where they were before they walked into the room. If I am relaxed about it, the more likely they are to tell me where they have been. Giving my characters space to tell their story is important. I’ll let them tell me what they think they want and I can rein them in during the next draft if required. Sometimes they surprise me in a great way and I don’t want to lose that.

Using Scrivener to arrange my scenes. I took every scene and put it into a separate document in a Scrivener binder. I have kept all three books together so that I can clearly see what I have got. As I have started writing out of order it is easy to put the scene into the right place. And with each scene listed I can see what is missing, where my gaps are and who’s POV might have slipped a bit.

Reminding myself that this is the first draft (or the Blah draft as a friend calls it). It certainly is not perfect nor should it be. It is to get the story down and test the plot and the characters and learn about them as they develop on the page. It is ok if it is crap. That is what revision is for, to clear out the exposition and better define characters and setting.

 

Focusing on things like the number of words still to go, or the number of hours needed until it is readable just slows the creative process down and, as it did recently, threaten to halt it. I am pleased that the words are still flowing, sometimes fast and furious and sometimes at a snail’s pace but they flow non-the-less.

Are your words flowing?